Challengers debate parking during Salisbury City Council forum
By Josh Bergeron
SALISBURY — During an election forum Tuesday night, City Council candidates agreed that more parking spaces are needed downtown but offered solutions that varied widely.
One candidate raised the specter of demolishing the Empire Hotel to build a parking lot. Another suggested creating an underground parking structure. Some candidates said a parking deck might be a good idea, but others said building a parking deck would unnecessarily add to the city’s debt.
Eight candidates attended Tuesday’s forum, organized by the Rowan County Tea Party. Because of Tuesday’s City Council meeting, incumbents did not attend.
Within the 90-minute forum, the candidates answered questions on several topics, including Fibrant, opioid overdoses in the city limits, their decision-making process and downtown parking. Candidates received two minutes to respond to each question.
More than one candidate said downtown parking is a problem, but they needed more information about the issue.
In the downtown area — the 36 blocks immediately surrounding The Square — there are 1,145 total parking spaces, according to the city. On most weekends, those spaces are not filled to capacity. That number also excludes the large lots in the block adjacent to the Salisbury Post and Rowan Public Library, which will be turned into a park.
Starting off, Belk said she is confident that all council members would agree that parking is a problem. She said additional parking lots should be built, but that she wasn’t sure about the best locations.
She said people visiting Charlotte often ride buses from parking areas to their destination and that the two trolleys operated by the Rowan County Convention and Visitors Bureau could be used to shuttle people from parking lots to downtown shops. If that’s not possible, the city of Salisbury could use its busses to shuttle people from parking to shops, she said.
“We’ve got to be willing to do the research, look outside the box and see what’s going to work,” Belk said.
Heggins said she doesn’t believe a downtown parking deck is a good idea. Citing Fibrant’s debt, she said it would make Salisbury’s financial position more difficult. The city should not take on debt for a project like a parking deck when it still has large debts related to Fibrant to pay.
She suggested demolishing downtown buildings that are not used and creating parking lots. She ended her answer by suggesting that Salisbury begin charging motorists for parking downtown.
Paris started by talking generally about the number of parking spaces downtown. He said the planned park for the block adjacent to the Salisbury Post and Rowan Public Library would exacerbate existing parking problems.
If the city and Downtown Salisbury Inc. are not successful with the most recent effort to redevelop the Empire Hotel, the building should be demolished and a parking lot built there, Paris said. He didn’t elaborate on the proposal.
After making the parking lot proposal, Paris transitioned to speaking about Fibrant, saying that it would hamper any large projects, such as a parking deck.
Queen focused on places where a parking deck could be located if built downtown. He said there are options but he’s not sure that they are good options.
Queen suggested that possible parking deck sites include across from the Salty Caper, in a parking lot on South Lee Street; beside the Davis Law Firm on North Main Street; and in the gravel lot adjacent to the Rowan County Magistrate’s Office and courthouse.
The only way to build a parking deck is for the city, a group of businesses or state government to fund the project, he said. The city is not a likely option, Queen said.
Ricks said parking is a problem and that the city could turn unused buildings into parking lots. Ricks also said the two trolleys operated by the Rowan County Convention and Visitors Bureau could be used on a regular basis to shuttle people downtown from other areas.
Sheffield said there are more than 400 parking spaces downtown, which is an understatement of the actual total. Sheffield said she does not believe a parking deck would be the best solution because it would not fit in the city’s landscape or budget.
She raised the possibility of creating underground parking downtown, creating more spaces for handicapped motorists and building metered parking.
Sheffield also said people may need to think about biking or walking more from existing parking lots.
“I have never one time gone to Charlotte or Winston-Salem to go shopping or eating and expected to park right in front of the place where I was going to go,” she said. “I think it’s a mindset as well.”
“Is parking a problem? Sure it is. What do we do about it? I don’t have a clue,” Struzick said.
He said the Historic Salisbury Foundation would not allow the demolition of any downtown buildings for a parking lot. Struck said he doesn’t like to answer questions when he doesn’t have a significant amount of information about the issue.
He said the cause of any parking problems downtown is that there’s not enough open land. He said shoppers are probably not willing to walk half a mile from a parking location to a downtown shop.
Wilks said more parking spaces need to be added downtown, and one potential spot is at the intersection of South Main and Horah streets. Currently, the intersection’s four corners include an auto repair shop, an office building, graffiti walls and a vacant lot.
She said another option could be expanding the city’s transit system to provide easier access to downtown. Discounts on the expanded transit system could be given to seniors and veterans, she said.
The best method to pay for any parking-related improvements would be grants, Wilks said.
Contact reporter Josh Bergeron at 704-797-4246.